In its 15th year, the festival continues to celebrate the Seattle and Northwest regional jazz scene.

Share story

Celebrating its 15th year, Ballard Jazz Festival 2017 (Wednesday-Saturday, May 17-20) will feature a concert from two-time Grammy-nominated saxophonist Chico Freeman, as well as Seattle’s jazz heavyweights and new talent.

“The festival is like a family at this point. Some people argue that every year they see Thomas Marriott or Greta Matassa or Gail Pettis, but by the same token — it’s our community. It’s the Seattle and Northwest regional jazz scene,” said Matt Jorgenson, artistic director of Ballard Jazz Festival.

Jorgenson co-founded Ballard Jazz Festival with John Bishop, his partner in the local jazz label Origin Records. Origin celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Festival preview

Ballard Jazz Festival

Wednesday-Saturday, May 17-20, various venues, Seattle; $13-$55 individual tickets, festival pass $100-$110 (206-219-3649 or ballardjazzfestival.com/tickets.php).

“John was my drum teacher when I was 15 years old, then I moved to New York. He started Origin Records in 1997, and I’d always help out. John’s apartment was across from the Tractor Tavern, and when I moved back to Seattle in 2002, I moved into the same building, and we rented out another apartment as the offices of Origin Records,” Jorgenson said.

Most Read Stories

Sale! Get 90% off digital access.

Five years after Origin got off the ground, Ballard Jazz Fest was created to give Jorgenson and Bishop a chance to showcase the local luminaries they represented in the city they lived in. As it has grown, the festival has expanded to Peddler Brewing Co. and Pono Ranch to accommodate larger crowds.

They also bring in larger acts for their mainstage such as Freeman, known as “the young lion” for his ferocious virtuosity and his collaborations with Wynton Marsalis.

The festival will also feature local pianist and 2016 “Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame” inductee Bill Anschell, who will perform from his new Origin release, “Rumbler,” at Egan’s on Friday, May 19. Also on Friday, Seattle vocalist Matassa performs with her quartet at the Ballard Landmark and Tarik Abouzied’s The Happy Orchestra plays Pono Ranch.

Local up-and-comers include drummer and composer Phil Pariso, who performs at Salmon Bay Eagles downstairs, and Cole Schuster, the young guitarist from the 200 Trio, who participates in the Guitar Summit on May 18 at Conor Byrne. A whole room will be devoted to the label Table & Chairs.

“The Ballard Jazz Festival was the first institution to take a chance on me as a new Seattle artist,” said drummer Chris Icasiano, who’s involved with Origin and Table & Chairs, as well as the Seattle avant-garde duo Bad Luck. “They gave me license to experiment with new sounds and allowed me to bring something out of the ordinary to the festival audience.”

Jorgenson said this sort of mentorship has always been their goal with the festival.

“That’s how it should work, that’s how you become ingrained in the scene. We’re trying to build community,” Jorgenson said. “We aren’t doing this to have a huge festival that will compete with Earshot, Portland Jazz Festival or Vancouver Jazz Festival. We’re putting on the music we want to present, highlighting a few out-of-town and international artists like we do every year, and other than that, it’s a family.”